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Operation Encore and the Saudi Connection: A Secret History of the 9/11 Investigation

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Tim Golden and Sebastian Rotella report in ProPublica:

On the morning of Sept. 11 last year, about two dozen family members of those killed in the terror attacks filed into the White House to visit with President Donald Trump. It was a choreographed, somewhat stiff encounter, in which each family walked to the center of the Blue Room to share a moment of conversation with Trump and the first lady, Melania Trump, before having a photograph taken with the first couple. Still, it was an opportunity the visitors were determined not to squander.

One after another, the families asked Trump to release documents from the FBI’s investigation into the 9/11 plot, documents that the Justice Department has long fought to keep secret. After so many years they needed closure, they said. They needed to know the truth. Some of the relatives reminded Trump that Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama blocked them from seeing the files, as did some of the FBI bureaucrats the president so reviled. The visitors didn’t mention that they hoped to use the documents in a current federal lawsuit that accuses the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia — an American ally that has only grown closer under Trump — of complicity in the attacks.

The president promised to help. “It’s done,” he said, reassuring several visitors. Later, the families were told that Trump ordered the attorney general, William P. Barr, to release the name of a Saudi diplomat who was linked to the 9/11 plot in an FBI report years earlier. Justice Department lawyers handed over the Saudi official’s name in a protected court filing that could be read only by lawyers for the plaintiffs. But Barr dashed the families’ hopes. In a statement to the court on Sept. 12, he insisted that other documents that might be relevant to the case had to be protected as state secrets. Their disclosure, he wrote, risked “significant harm to the national security.”

The families were stunned. They knew that the success of their lawsuit might well depend on access to the FBI’s investigation into possible Saudi involvement in the plot by al-Qaida. In a federal courthouse in Manhattan, near where the twin towers once stood, the fight over evidence had already dragged on for more than a year. Now, as the judge prepared to rule on what documents would be disclosed, the Justice Department was digging in.

Daniel Gonzalez wasn’t surprised by the hard line. A former street agent in the FBI’s San Diego field office, he was one of several retired investigators who had signed on to help the families. During the last 15 years of his FBI career, Gonzalez was a central figure in the bureau’s effort to understand Saudi connections to 9/11. But even on the inside, Gonzalez often felt as if his own government wanted no part of what he was finding.

From the day of the attacks, the trail seemed to point to Saudi Arabia. First, there was the inescapable fact that, like Osama bin Laden, 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis. The first two flew in to Los Angeles in January 2000 and quickly made their way to a Saudi mosque. When they moved to San Diego a few weeks later, they turned for help to a middle-aged Saudi student whom the FBI suspected of spying for the kingdom.

But as details of the 9/11 plot came into focus, the FBI line on possible Saudi involvement began to shift: When the evidence was assessed, FBI officials reported, there was no solid proof that the Saudi government or any of its senior officials deliberately aided the Qaida terrorists. Low-level Saudis with government ties might have helped the two hijackers in California, the bureau acknowledged, but there was no indication that they knew the men were terrorists — much less planning to murder thousands of Americans.

Gonzalez knew he hadn’t seen all the evidence; he had just a corner of an investigation that stretched around the world. American intelligence agencies surely had pieces of the Saudi puzzle that even senior FBI officials might not be aware of. But what Gonzalez uncovered was troubling, and he knew that bigger questions about the plot were still unanswered. “My head was already flat from banging it against the wall,” he recalled. “But I thought, We’re not done.”

Gonzalez, a tough, affable Texan, pressed on. With a small group of like-minded investigators in New York and California, he hunted down witnesses who had slipped away and circled back to clues that had been missed. The evidence they developed was nearly all circumstantial. But it added to the questions about the role of the Saudi government.

The FBI has disputed the idea that foreign-policy considerations significantly influenced its investigation. In interviews, current and former bureau officials and federal prosecutors insisted to us that they never would have hesitated to pursue any Saudi who could have been solidly linked to the 9/11 plot, even if that person never faced trial in the United States. (Saudi Arabia does not extradite its citizens.) “I have never been privy to discussions about not charging someone for 9/11 because we need to maintain a better relationship with the Saudis,” Jacqueline Maguire, a special agent in charge in New York who was closely involved in the case from the beginning, told us. “I have never heard charges be questioned for that reason.”

But others who worked on the matter, including some at the FBI’s highest levels, say that the United States’ complex and often-troubled relationship with the Saudi regime was an unavoidable fact throughout their investigations. Even as the Saudi authorities became more cooperative with the United States in fighting al-Qaida after 2003, they were minimally and grudgingly helpful when it came to the 9/11 inquiry. According to current and former officials, requests for assistance that might rattle the Saudi security agencies were frequently balanced against FBI and CIA needs for Saudi help against continuing terror threats.

How such considerations might also weigh against the appeals of the 9/11 families for a fuller record of what happened remains an open question. If anything, the transactional nature of America’s relationship with the Saudi kingdom has become more overt. In December, following the terrorist shooting by a Saudi Air Force officer that killed three Americans and wounded eight others on a Florida naval base, Trump tweeted what he said were assurances from King Salman that “this person in no way shape or form represents the feelings of the Saudi people.” Earlier last year, addressing the Saudi government’s murder of a Saudi columnist for The Washington Post, Jamal Khashoggi, Trump argued that such offenses should be seen in a broader context. “I’m not like a fool that says, ‘We don’t want to do business with them,’” he told NBC News.

Washington’s efforts to keep secrets about possible Saudi connections to 9/11 have also intensified. Former FBI agents who have made court statements in support of the 9/11 families have been warned by the bureau that they risk violating secrecy laws. Kenneth Williams — a retired agent who wrote a prescient memo before 9/11 about radical Arab students taking flying lessons in possible preparation for hijackings — said in a sworn declaration for the plaintiffs that an FBI lawyer told him that the Trump administration did not want him to help them because it could imperil “good relations with Saudi Arabia.” (The FBI declined to comment.)

The full story of the FBI’s investigation into Saudi links to the 9/11 attacks has remained largely untold. Even the code name of the case — Operation Encore — has never been published before. This account is based on interviews with more than 50 current and former investigators, intelligence officials and witnesses in the case. It also draws on some previously secret documents as well as on the voluminous public files of the bipartisan 9/11 Commission.

The Encore investigation exposed a bitter rift within the bureau over the Saudi connection. It illuminated a series of missed opportunities to resolve questions about links between one of Washington’s closest allies and the deadliest attack in the nation’s history. Richard Lambert, who led the FBI’s initial 9/11 investigation in San Diego, as the assistant special agent in charge there, says he believes that even if the FBI’s evidence of possible Saudi involvement in the case is not conclusive, it is significant enough that it should be fully disclosed. “The circumstantial evidence has mounted,” he says. “Given the lapse of time, I don’t know any reason why the truth should be kept from the American people.”

Images of the World Trade Center’s collapse were still looping on television sets in the FBI’s San Diego field office when a lead came in from Dulles International Airport, outside Washington. A blue 1988 Toyota Corolla had been found in a parking lot; it was registered to one of the suspected hijackers of American Airlines Flight 77, which took off for Los Angeles the previous morning before crashing into the Pentagon, killing 64 people on board and 125 inside the building. The hijacker, Nawaf al-Hazmi, listed a San Diego address.

Gonzalez caught the lead. At 42, he had been in the office for a decade, building a reputation as a shrewd, instinctive agent with a gift for getting people to talk. He had worked very effectively against Mexican drug traffickers and corrupt border-control agents, and he pivoted easily to the new target. “He was a phenomenal agent,” Lambert says, “what you would want to see if an agent knocked on your door. He just kept going and going.”

The address from Dulles led Gonzalez to a plain, white, two-story house in the working-class suburb of Lemon Grove. The listed owner was a 65-year-old Indian immigrant, Abdussattar Shaikh, who had taught English as a second language at local community colleges and helped establish the Islamic Center of San Diego, the city’s largest mosque. Gonzalez hurried back to prepare a search warrant at the FBI office, where snipers had taken up positions on the roof. “It was chaos,” recalls William D. Gore, who was then the special agent in charge in San Diego. “Nobody knew where the next attack would be.”

When Gonzalez returned to the Lemon Grove house the next day, a small army was mustering: an evidence-collection team, computer experts and a SWAT team with protective gear and a battering ram. Before they could get to the door, however, the professor politely opened it for them. It would be more than a week before anyone told Gonzalez that Dr. Shaikh, as he liked to be called, was in fact a long-time informant for the FBI field office.

Shaikh’s FBI handler would later acknowledge to Justice Department investigators that the professor had mentioned the two hijackers to him — but only by their first names, noting casually that they were the latest in a line of young Muslim men who rented his spare bedroom. Even had the agent dug further, he might not have discovered that Shaikh’s boarders, Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, were known Qaida operatives whose names were in the databases of both the CIA and the National Security Agency. While CIA officials placed the two men under surveillance in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in early January 2000 and learned that at least one of them later flew to Los Angeles, the agency did not alert the FBI to their presence until August 2001, a few weeks before the attacks.

As the raid proceeded, Gonzalez escorted one of Shaikh’s new boarders outside. The young man got to know Hazmi a bit at a Texaco gas station where Hazmi briefly worked washing cars. But the guy whom Gonzalez should try to find, the boarder said, was another young immigrant who was especially close to the two Saudi men. His name was Mohdar Abdullah.

Gonzalez set up 24-hour surveillance on the Texaco station and began searching for Abdullah. The next day, as Abdullah drove into a student parking lot at San Diego State University, Gonzalez pulled up alongside him and identified himself as FBI. “What took you so long?” Abdullah asked. “I thought you’d be all over me sooner.”

Gonzalez and another agent invited Abdullah for breakfast at a Denny’s just east of the campus. The diner was one of the spots that Abdullah liked to go to with the two hijackers. Just up the hill, on Saranac Street, was the two-bedroom apartment they rented, where they often whiled away their days with Abdullah and a rotating crew of young Muslim men. Nearby was a small mosque where the three men worshipped under the guidance of Anwar al-­Awlaki, the Yemeni-American imam who would emerge as an important Qaida leader before being killed in Yemen by a United States drone strike in 2011.

Over the next three days, Abdullah, then 22, sketched a picture of the hijackers’ California lives — praying daily at the mosque, going for pizza at Little Caesars, playing pickup soccer. Abdullah translated for the two Saudis, drove them on errands and registered them for English classes. He also tried to arrange flying lessons for the pair. At a San Diego airfield in May 2000, they told the instructor they wanted to skip past the single-engine Cessna and learn to fly Boeing jets. He broke off their training after the second lesson and advised them to come back when they could speak better English.

Mihdhar, who was 24, left for Yemen in June 2000 to . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

I’ve always been disturbed by how the George W. Bush administration helped Saudi citizens flee the US after the attacks.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 January 2020 at 4:50 pm

Inside the U.S. military’s raid against its own security guards that left dozens of Afghan children dead

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Brett Murphy reports in USA Today:

ZIZABAD, Afghanistan – Once the Americans left, the survivors started digging.

There were too many dead and not enough shovels, so a local politician brought in heavy machinery from a nearby construction site. He dug graves deep enough to fit mothers with children, or children with children. Some were still in their pajamas, their hands inked with henna tattoos from the party preparations the night before.

Villagers picked through the rubble of what had been an entire neighborhood, looking for remains to wrap in white linens for burial. A boy clutching a torn rug walked in a daze on top of the ruins. A young man collapsed in grief by a pile of mud bricks where his home once stood – where his wife and four children had been sleeping inside.

The local doctor recorded a cellphone video to document the dead faces, freckled with shrapnel and blood, coated with dust and debris. Some were Afghan men of fighting age, but most – dozens of them – were women and children. Taza was 3 years old. Maida was 2. Zia, 1.

The hot summer wind kicked up dust, smoke and the smell of gunpowder as villagers tried to make sense of why their remote village was demolished by an American airstrike in the middle of the night.

A clue was found near several of the dead Afghan fighters: ID badges from the private security company at the American-controlled airfield up the road.

Why had a team of U.S. soldiers and Marines battled its own paid security detail?

After more than a decade, those who buried their families still don’t know.

U.S. military officials publicly touted the August 22, 2008, Azizabad raid – Operation Commando Riot – as a victory. A high-value Taliban target had been killed; the collateral damage was minimal; the village was grateful.

None of it was true.

The Taliban commander escaped. Dozens of civilians were dead in the rubble, including as many as 60 children. The local population rioted.

It remains one of the deadliest civilian casualty events of the Afghan campaign. But the story of how the operation turned tragic has been largely hidden from the public.

USA TODAY spent more than a year investigating the Azizabad raid and sued the Department of Defense to obtain almost 1,000 pages of investigative files previously kept secret because it had been deemed “classified national security information.” The records included photographs of the destruction in Azizabad and sworn testimony from the U.S. forces who planned and executed the operation.

USA TODAY also obtained Afghan government records, evidence collected by humanitarian groups, including the Red Cross, and a confidential United Nations investigation into the incident.

In addition, a reporter traveled to western Afghanistan to interview government officials, investigators, first responders, witnesses and the villagers who survived.

Together, the records and interviews tell the story of a disaster that was months in the making as military and company officials ignored warnings about the men they had hired to provide intelligence and security. The records also reveal that the Defense Department has for years downplayed or denied the fatal mistakes surrounding the tragedy.

The problems began in 2007 when ArmorGroup, a private security company working on a Pentagon subcontract, hired two local warlords on the U.S. intelligence payroll to provide armed guards at an airfield on the western edge of Afghanistan.

Those warlords fought each other for control of the weapons and money ArmorGroup was giving out. The tangle of espionage and tribal infighting eventually drew in the very same military units that had helped empower the warlords in the first place.

The breakdowns in the U.S. military intelligence machine culminated with the raid itself. Some troops were never warned of Azizabad’s civilian population, and the special operation commanders who did know unleashed devastating force from the air anyway. Ground troops directed an American gunship to demolish house after house where at least one insurgent took cover, without knowing who else was inside.

“If they fled into the building, we were asking him to basically drop the building,” a Marine who was coordinating with the gunship testified. Most of the names were redacted from the military investigation.

Much about the mission in Azizabad remains in dispute, but this much is clear: The architects behind this corner of the war – and those profiting from the security contract – did not understand the difference between who they were supposed to be fighting, employing and protecting.

There still is no definitive death toll. After initially insisting that only five to seven civilians died, Pentagon officials were forced to adjust that figure to 33 after photos and videos of the carnage proved the official account wrong. Separate reviews by the Afghan government, Red Cross, United Nations and Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission put the civilian deaths over 70.

After two Pentagon investigations, the U.S. military denied any wrongdoing. Defense Department officials declined to comment for this story.

A 2010 Senate Armed Services Committee inquiry laid blame with both ArmorGroup and the Defense Department for doing business with the warlords. In response to the Senate report, then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates issued a letter recognizing problems with contract oversight, which he pledged to fix.

Yet in the aftermath of the Azizabad raid, records show, military leaders sought to present an image of success and mask evidence of a civilian casualty disaster. The false version of events was amplified by Oliver North – a former Marine commander and a key figure in the Iran-Contra scandal of the late 1980s – who was embedded as a Fox News contributor with the forces conducting the raid. North’s segment, which presents the mission as a success and the Taliban commander “confirmed dead,” is still available on the Fox News website.

North did not respond to multiple interview requests. In an email, Fox News spokeswoman Caley Cronin did not address North’s segment and directed questions to North, “who is no longer a contributor with the network,” she wrote.

Lt. Colonel Rachel E. VanLandingham, a retired officer with the Judge Advocate General’s Corps and the chief of international law at Central Command’s headquarters during the Azizabad raid, said the commanders responsible for investigating the incident seemed to ignore the failures instead of learning from them. She did not know the details of the operation or the military’s response until contacted by USA TODAY.

“The CENTCOM investigation seemed more worried about looking good than being good,” VanLandingham, now a law professor at Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles, said in an interview. “Everyone who deploys in Afghanistan should know this incident.”

G4S, the largest private security company in the world, purchased ArmorGroup in 2008 – after the company had signed its contract with the Pentagon to provide security at the airfield but before the Azizabad raid. The company’s role has remained virtually unknown other than a literal footnote in the Senate inquiry.

Executives at ArmorGroup, which G4S dissolved into another subsidiary it later sold in 2014, considered their decisions at the time to be the best option to keep those inside the base safe under difficult circumstances, according to emails collected by Senate investigators.

“Without the leadership and management” of company staff, the “worst could have caused the project to fail long before the August tragedy,” one said.

G4S declined to comment for this story, except to state that ArmorGroup is a former G4S subsidiary that wasn’t under the direct control of the parent company.

But some of the employees who were operating the air base contracts near Azizabad agreed to speak out publicly for the first time.

“It was wholesale slaughter,” David McDonnell, a former ArmorGroup director who oversaw mine clearing projects in Afghanistan, said in a recent interview. “And it didn’t need to be.”

His colleague, Tony Thompson, worked with some of the villagers killed in the raid. Thompson told USA TODAY he has spent much of the past decade wrestling with the truth kept secret all this time.

“Their families died, and they still don’t know why,” he said. “You’ll never bring them back. But you need to know how and why it happened.”
chapter1.png” alt=”I. The Airfield” />

I. The Airfield

The Shindand District air base, on the southern border of Afghanistan’s Herat Province, was first built by the Soviets in the 1960s. A graveyard of abandoned Russian aircraft and land mines spread across open fields on both sides of the perimeter fence. The base is a 9-square-mile campus in a remote but strategic location between Iran’s eastern border and the Ring Road, which circles all of Afghanistan.

In a district that has . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Military “honor” is a curiously flexible concept. And we still are at war in Afghanistan — and the military is still lying about it, as the Washington Post has discovered through a massive FOIA request.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 January 2020 at 2:23 pm

The richest American family hired terrorists to shoot machine guns at sleeping women and children

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Meagan Day writes in Medium:

The bloody history of the American labor movement has never really been taught in schools. Its antagonists are powerful entities who’d rather be remembered for their visionary contributions and largesse. Take the Rockefeller family, some of the most celebrated philanthropists in American history, whose heirs and business partners would like to be known for financial contributions to medical science — not for being responsible for the deaths of the children of striking miners who worked for the Rockefeller-owned Colorado Fuel & Iron Co.

The incident, known as the Ludlow Massacre, occured in April of 1914, and it sparked a 10-day battle in the coalfields of the American West. It was one of the bloodiest episodes in the history of American class conflict, and one of the closest things to war between compatriots since the Confederacy was defeated a half-century earlier.

The first labor unions arrived in Colorado nearly as quickly as the first coal miners. There were strikes in the Colorado coalfields in 1884, 1894, and 1904. But none rivaled the rebellion of 1914.

Between 1870 and 1910, Colorado’s non-Native American population had multiplied 20 times over. By then, Colorado Fuel & Iron Co. (CF&I) was the largest employer in the state. Its workers were a combination of American-born men of English and Scots-Irish descent and immigrants from places as far-flung as Greece and Japan. Working and living conditions for the thousands of miners were harsh and dangerous. Dynamite explosions, mine collapses, and premature death from work-related illness and injury were common. When an inspector visited the site of a mine explosion that had killed 56 in a coal town called Starkville in 1910, he was startled to see not just how the miners and their families had died, but how they’d lived, writing:

The residences or houses and living quarters of the miners smack of the direst poverty. Practically all of the residences are huddled in the shadow of the coal washers and the smoke of the coke ovens making the surroundings smutty with coal dust and coke smoke. Not all of the houses are equipped with water, and practically none have sewerage; they depend for their water upon hydrants on the streets. The people reflect their surroundings; slatternly dressed women and unkempt children throng the dirty streets and alleys of the camp. One is forced to the conclusion that these people must be very poorly paid, else they would not be content to live in this fashion.

They were not content. The miners agitated for better pay and conditions on their own, but they were repressed at every turn. In Blood Passion: The Ludlow Massacre and Class War in the American West, Scott Martelle writes, “They did not have a political voice. The courts and the local political structure in the south [of Colorado] were directly controlled by, or friendly to, the interests of mine owners. In elections, local mine superintendents often cast their workers’ ballots for them.” Companies like CF&I had undercover detectives and private security who would spy on union organizers and run them out of town. The mine operators would collude with one another, for instance sending letters with warnings like this one: “All superintendents: look out for Jack Nelson, commonly called the Big Swede. He has been working at Wooten and he is an organizer for the U.M.W. of A.” — that is, the United Mine Workers of America (UMW).

The company towns, writes historian Philip Foner, were “feudal domains with the company acting as lord and master. The ‘law’ consisted of company rules. Curfews were imposed, company guards — brutal thugs armed with machine guns and rifles loaded with soft-point bullets — would not admit any ‘suspicious stranger’ into the camp.” CF&I was the most restrictive of all, and its employees often lived 20 to a shack, in houses owned by the company itself.

In 1913, CF&I workers sought representation from the UMW, which had increased its presence throughout the region despite the attempts of company spies to drive them out. In September, after the company refused demands for an eight-hour workday and the elimination of company guards, the workers went on strike. The labor organizer Mother Jones gave a rousing speech in support of the strike, for which she was imprisoned for 20 days. In her autobiography she writes of her time in a Trinidad, Colorado, prison:

Day was perpetual twilight and night was deep night. I watched people’s feet from my cellar window; miners’ feet in old shoes; soldiers’ feet, well-shod in government leather; the shoes of women with the heels run down; the dilapidated shoes of children; barefooted boys. The children would scrooch down and wave to me but the soldiers shooed them off.

When she was released, she saw that the miners had been evicted from their shacks for attempting to strike. They were now living in tent colonies outside the towns of boarded-up shanties they had once called home. Not only that, but the company guards were arresting the newly homeless miners for vagrancy and forcing them to work for no pay as punishment. The miners were regularly beaten by the guards, but still they wouldn’t stop striking. They knew that the only way to get concessions from Rockefeller’s company was to hold out and watch the profits plummet.

utraged by the workers’ insubordination, CF&I gave its hired thugs — or “detectives,” working for a private security company called Baldwin-Felts — the liberty to try a new tactic: outright terrorism. The Baldwin-Felts detectives began to drive around at night and fire into the tents, terrifying, injuring, and on occasion killing the sleeping miners and their families. The miners organized armed patrols to ward off the detectives, but they were no match for the “Death Special.” That was the name Baldwin-Felts agents gave to the car, equipped with a machine gun, in which they roamed the coalfields at night.

In response to the terrorism of the agents, the miners and their families dug pits in the earth under their tents, in which they hid at night to avoid being sprayed by bullets. They endured this violence, living in their tents with their pits, all through the winter and spring. The few occasions they fired back at agents were used as justification for calling in the Colorado National Guard.

On April 19, the striking miners at Ludlow put on an Orthodox Easter celebration for the Greek families in their tent colony. On April 20, the Colorado Guardsmen came to Ludlow, claiming to be searching for a suspected criminal. It’s still unclear who fired the first shot, but a ten-hour gun battle between the armed striking miners at Ludlow and the Colorado National Guard ensued. Martelle described the scene, which would later come to be known as the Ludlow Massacre:

Seven men and a boy were killed in the shooting, at least three of the men — all striking coal miners, one a leader — apparently executed in cold blood by Colorado National Guardsmen who had taken them captive. As the sun set, the militia moved into the camp itself and an inferno lit up the darkening sky, reducing most of the makeshift village to ashes. It wasn’t until the next morning that the bodies of two mothers and eleven children were discovered where they had taken shelter in a dirt bunker beneath one of the tents. The raging fire had sucked the oxygen from the air below, suffocating the families as they hid from the gun battle. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Good photos at the link, including a heavy machine-gun aimed at the (US civilian) camp. I sense a continuity from then to the US today.


Written by LeisureGuy

3 January 2020 at 5:10 pm

Extremist cops: how US law enforcement is failing to police itself

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Maddy Crowell and Sylvia Varnham O’Regan report in the Guardian:

Ever since he was a teenager, Joshua Doggrell has believed that the former slave-holding states of the American south should secede from the United States. When he was a freshman in college at the University of Alabama in 1995, Doggrell discovered a group whose worldview chimed with his – the League of the South. The League believes that white southern culture is in danger of extinction from forces such as religious pluralism, homosexuality, and interracial coupling. Doggrell wanted to protect that culture. In 2006, when he was 29 years old, he applied to be a police officer in Anniston, Alabama, a sparsely populated city at the foothills of the Appalachian mountains, where more than half of the residents are people of colour. On his police application, Doggrell wrote that he was a member of the League. Shortly after, he was hired.

During nearly a decade on the police force, Doggrell was a vocal advocate for the League, working to recruit fellow officers to the group. He encouraged his colleagues to attend the League’s monthly meetings, which he held at a steakhouse not far from the police station. On Facebook, he posted neo-Confederate material, including a photo of an early leader of the Ku Klux Klan, and wrote that he was “against egalitarianism in all forms”. He often refused to be in the room when the department recited the pledge of allegiance in front of the American flag.

In 2013, Doggrell delivered the opening speech at the League’s annual conference, on how to “cultivate the good will” of police officers. “The vast majority of men in uniform are aware that they’re southerners,” Doggrell told the audience, which included the prominent neo-Nazi Matthew Heimbach and another Anniston police officer Doggrell had recruited to the group. Doggrell added that most southern officers were “a lot closer” to joining the League than they were 10 or 15 years ago. “My department,” he added, “has been very supportive of me. I’ve somehow been promoted twice since I was there.”

“Everybody knew he was in the League of the South,” Matt Delozier, a retired sergeant from the Anniston police department, told us when we met him near Anniston earlier this year. “I think the general consensus was that nobody understood – if you’re out here in law enforcement in a supervisor’s role, why are you involved in this group?” But it wasn’t until 2015, when a leaked video of Doggrell’s speech led to a report that went viral across the US, that the city’s manager fired him. (Doggrell’s superiors did not raise any concerns over his conduct as an officer.) Doggrell went on to appeal the dismissal and sue both the city and the city manager, arguing that his termination had violated his constitutional rights.

Although it is unusual for a police officer to be so open about his involvement in an extremist organisation, for decades, anti-government and white-supremacist groups have been attempting to recruit police officers into their ranks. “It is something a lot of folks are overlooking,” says Vida B Johnson, an assistant professor of law at Georgetown University. “Police forces are becoming more interested in talking about implicit bias – the unconscious, racial biases we carry with us as Americans. But people aren’t really addressing the explicit biases that are present on police forces.”

According to Johnson’s research, there have been at least 100 different scandals, in more than 40 different states, involving police officers who have sent racist emails and text messages, or made racist comments on social media, since the 1990s. A recent investigation by the Center for Investigative Reporting found that hundreds of active-duty and retired law enforcement officers from around the country were members of confederate, anti-government and anti-Islam groups on Facebook. But there is no official record of officers who are tied to white supremacist or other extremist groups because, in the US, there is no federal policy for screening or monitoring the country’s 800,000+ law enforcement officers for extremist views. The 18,000 or so police departments across the country are largely left to police themselves.

To much of the rest of the country, the town of Anniston, Alabama is primarily known as the site of a traumatic episode in the American civil rights movement. On 14 May 1961, the Freedom Riders, a group of black and white civil rights activists, arrived by bus in Anniston to protest segregation. They were attacked by a mob of Ku Klux Klansmen, who slashed the bus’s tyres, broke its windows and set fire to it in an attempt to kill the protesters. Even though the Anniston police department was only a block away, the officers didn’t show up on the scene until the early afternoon, and made no arrests.

Today, Anniston remains sharply divided along racial lines. The majority of the city’s black community lives south-west of downtown, in run-down, single-storey houses. East of the city centre, manicured lawns and picket fences adorn the predominantly white neighbourhood. Although roughly 50% of the city’s 24,000 residents are black, the people who govern the city are mostly white. “It always comes down to leadership,” said David E Reddick, one of the city’s two black council members and a former president of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, when we met in his office. “You’ve got a city where you’ve got three whites and two blacks on the council, and you need three votes to get anything done.”

“Blacks are being targeted in this city,” Reddick continued. According to the city’s other black council member, Ben Little, its officers regularly pull black people over for minor offences such as traffic violations. Little also said that members of the police department had often intimidated and harassed him, or stood by while others did. After being particularly vocal in his criticisms of police abuses in 2012, he woke up one morning to find caution tape wrapped like a noose around his truck. When Little and Reddick voiced their concerns about local policing two years ago, the local newspaper, the Anniston Star, responded with the headline: “NAACP leaders, with little evidence, claim racism by police, courts”.

Joshua Doggrell claims that his views are not unusual in Anniston. “My people are Southern people and we grew up proud of our Southern heritage,” he told us, when we met him at a restaurant where he used to host League of the South meetings. He is solidly built, with a round, puffy face, and drove a black pickup truck with Confederate flags on the front bumper. He insisted that he was not a racist or a white supremacist, and claims that he had ceased his involvement with the League by early 2015, but admitted he thought “there are some things the white race did better throughout the history of mankind, like governing”. He couched his extremist views in careful terms, often centred on his religious beliefs: he wasn’t “against blacks”, he claimed – he just didn’t believe God had created the races to be mixed.

Doggrell presented himself as a victim who had been wronged by the city when he was fired from the police department. When he joined the force in 2006, none of his superiors flagged his membership in the League of the South as an issue, he told us. (The police department refused multiple requests for interviews.) Three years later, Doggrell started a local chapter of the League, and invited a number of fellow officers to its first meeting. At the meeting, the League’s founder, a former history professor named Michael Hill, argued that the time had come for a new civil war. “The way I look at it,” Hill told the group, “This is round two of the same battle.”

The department’s tolerance for Doggrell seemed to be mirrored by some of the local press. When Doggrell held his League chapter’s first meeting, in an Anniston diner, he invited a reporter from the Anniston Star to cover it. The Star published a 380-word account of the meeting that read like the announcement of a new seniors’ night at the bingo hall: “Local Secessionists Hold 1st Meeting.”

But several people of colour in Anniston recognised Doggrell’s name in the report and were alarmed. Abdul Khalil’llah, the director of an Anniston-based civil rights organisation, sent letters to the Alabama attorney general’s office and the US secretary of homeland security in April 2009. “I was basically astonished to hear that a police officer – someone who’d taken an oath to uphold the law – could be in a neo-Confederate type of organisation,” Khalil’llah said.

Khalil’llah’s letters went unanswered, but in response to his complaints, the Anniston police department decided to conduct an internal investigation into Doggrell later that year. A few officers had found Doggrell’s views odd, but the department decided to take no action against him. “He is a dedicated, professional police officer,” then police chief, John Dryden, wrote in a report. “He has never showed any radical action in his duties as a police officer.” It was not a concern to the police department that Doggrell was part of an organisation that the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors rightwing extremist organisations, had labelled a “hate group” since 2000. (The SPLC “can label anything”, Dryden wrote in the report.)

Not long after the investigation, Doggrell was promoted to sergeant and then, a few years later, to lieutenant. Doggrell’s former boss, Layton McGrady, acknowledged at a 2015 hearing into Doggrell’s dismissal that Doggrell’s association with the League of the South wasn’t a factor when he was up for promotion. Asked why not, McGrady said it “didn’t affect his job performance or the police department”.

While not every police officer who is tied to a white supremacist group will necessarily act out their beliefs violently, the presence of even a single radicalised officer can terrorise a community. “Even if the number of officers is numerically small, because of the intense risks posed of having a ticking time bomb like that in a department, that’s a big deal,” said Brian Levin, a former NYPD officer who directs the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism in California.

In a number of cases, ideologically radicalised police officers have gone on to commit extreme forms of violence. In one of the most disturbing cases, a civil rights lawsuit from 1991 alleged that a group of officers from the Los Angeles county sheriff’s department systematically terrorised and harassed minority residents by vandalising their homes, beating and torturing them, and even killing members of the community. The accused officers turned out to be members of the Lynwood Vikings, a “neo-Nazi, white supremacist gang”, according to a federal judge. (The county settled the case for $9m.) In 2012, an officer in Little Rock, Arkansas who had once attended a KKK meeting, shot and killed a 15-year-old black boy. Earlier this year, in Holton, Michigan, an officer was fired after a framed KKK application and Confederate flags were discovered in his home.

“Since the inception of this nation, black people have been under threat from the police,” said Whitney Shepard, who works at the DC-based organisation Stop Police Terror Project. “There’s not really ever been a time in this country where the police have protected our communities.”

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 December 2019 at 4:22 pm

Why White Nationalists Are Turning on Trump Republicans

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Talia Lavin writes in GQ:

Last week, Charlie Kirk, 26-year-old spokesman for the deep-pocketed Republican youth group Turning Point USA, held an event called “Prove Me Wrong” at the University of Houston. Billed as a chance to watch Kirk “debate the merits of capitalism vs. Socialism” in his signature blustering style, it ended in chaos. A hostile throng materialized around the small table—adorned with a poster that said, “I’m pro-choice. You can pick your gun”—at which Kirk was sitting and chased him bodily from the area, shouting, “America first!”

It was the latest in a series of escalating disruptions of conservative events that amounted to a piecemeal showdown between the corporate wing of the Republican establishment and an insurgent faction of white nationalists, an outgrowth of the alt-right. The events underscored the perils engendered by the Trump-era Republican Party’s willingness to accede to the goals of white nationalism, even as it attempts to keep the ideology’s most strident proponents at a careful, corporate-friendly arm’s length.

The insurgent faction’s agenda had three major points: advocating for anti-Semitism; advancing the theory that white Americans are being “replaced” by immigrants, including legal ones; and asserting the necessity of explicit homophobia. It is led, tactically and spiritually, by a 21-year-old named Nicholas Fuentes, who was neither a particularly significant nor a particularly popular figure on the white nationalist right prior to the disruption campaign. He was a minor participant in the deadly Unite the Right rally at Charlottesville in 2017, dropped out of Boston University, and then launched a YouTube channel called “America First!” Although Fuentes is frequently described as a “Trump supporter,” the principal objection he and his faction have toward the Trump administration is its insufficient cruelty to nonwhites, and its perceived coziness with Jews. Fuentes’s strategy—sending minions to disrupt the Q&A sections of corporate-conservative events with overtly white nationalist questions—was effective, but did not require any significant cunning: Pointing out the hypocrisy of establishment conservatism in the age of Trump is a fantastically easy task, fruit hanging so low it brushes muck.

The evident success of Fuentes’s faction in humiliating and distressing mainstream conservative speakers engendered a slew of press coverage, which in turn emboldened the youthful white nationalists further. Last week, Donald Trump Jr. faced a humiliatingly abbreviated launch for his book, Triggered: How the Left Thrives on Hate and Wants to Silence Us, scampering off stage right a mere 20 minutes after his event began, as he was beset by demands for a Q&A—silenced by a MAGA-hatted crowd that thrives on hate. The neo-Nazi publication the Daily Stormer, which has aligned itself with Fuentes’s faction, revealed plans for the disruption campaign to continue throughout November and beset several events scheduled by the Young America’s Foundation.

The subsequent scramble by Republicans to repudiate white nationalism has been a tragicomedy in Tweet form. Benny Johnson, fired from BuzzFeed and the Independent Journal Review for plagiarism and currently serving as chief creative officer of TPUSA, laid out a long thread establishing Fuentes’s history of public bigotry, from overt racism to “Unabashedly Sexist” (sic) commentary. Johnson ended with a passionate plea to fellow conservatives to “disavow hatred, racism, identity politics and open antisemitism.” And Texas Republican representative Dan Crenshaw, who was heckled by Fuentes’s acolytes no fewer than three times, took to Twitter to clarify that “conservatives are 100% different” than these “vehement racists, anti-semites & ethnic-nationalists.”

Yet both Johnson and Crenshaw are avid supporters of Trump and his policies. Johnson spent the following day live-tweeting the House impeachment inquiry, manically defending a president who has predicated his entire rule on racism, and who is credibly accused of multiple rapes; Crenshaw has advocated ending visa lotteries and policies that make it easier for immigrants’ family members to immigrate, and has advocated repeatedly for Trump’s signature border wall, a concrete symbol of xenophobia.

Trump’s own statements and policies are the strongest argument that his vision aligns with that of white nationalists. One wonders how, precisely, someone like Charlie Kirk could have answered a question posed by Fuentes in his channel: “Why does the president prefer immigrants from Norway vs. Haiti?”

While the litany of Trump’s acts cozying up to and encouraging a once-fringe white nationalist element is long, it’s worth considering the architect of the immigration policies that establishment Republicans like Dan Crenshaw champion. An ongoing series of articles by the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Michael E. Hayden, drawing on some 900 e-mails sent by Trump’s senior policy adviser Stephen Miller to former Breitbart editor Katie McHugh, have laid out precisely the ideological affiliations of the administration’s immigration czar. From championing the Confederate flag to repeatedly linking to openly white nationalist sites like VDARE and American Renaissance, Miller stridently embraced the tenets of white supremacy; and like the Fuentes faction, he also advocated a complete cessation of legal immigration of any kind. “There should be no immigration for several years. Not just cut the number down from the current 1 million green cards per year. For assimilation purposes,” he wrote to McHugh.

Miller’s e-mails show a familiarity with—and advocacy of—the “great replacement” conspiracy theory, which posits a plot by elites to replace the white population of America and Europe with nonwhite immigrants. Miller stops short of embracing a crucial tenet of “great replacement” theory embraced by most of the white nationalist right: that this replacement is being orchestrated by Jews. (That precise theorem is what motivated the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter to murder eleven Jews almost exactly a year ago.) Perhaps this is because Miller is Jewish, a fact that the White House has belabored in its increasingly mendacious defenses of the staffer, going so far as to accuse the Southern Poverty Law Center of an anti-Semitic campaign.

But it is impossible to advocate for white nationalism, as Miller has throughout his career in politics, without simultaneously elevating anti-Semitism. For most white nationalists, anti-Semitism is a non-negotiable raison d’être for the movement, the unified field theory that ties a bigoted worldview together. In their minds, nonwhite people are too ignorant and barbaric to organize the kind of demographic coup the “great replacement” theory lays out; instead, they assert again and again, it has been orchestrated by cunning Jews, pulling the marionette strings of mass migration and advocating for interracial marriage. The sites, forums, and chats that advocate for an end to legal immigration—and that push the false theory that demographic change amounts to “white genocide”—are places that praise Hitler and traffic in the ugliest of anti-Semitic sentiments. This is why an administration awash in anti-immigrant sentiment, slashing rights for asylees and refugees, governed during the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, the deadliest pogrom in American history. It is not a coincidence. It never was.

None of the Republican figures so quick to disavow Fuentes did the same for Miller; indeed, there has been a profound, impenetrable closing of the ranks around him on the right. The chief difference at play is that . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

The article concludes:

There are tens of thousands of children who have been separated from their families by Stephen Miller’s policies; there are dozens of dead, murdered in an El Paso Walmart and a Pittsburgh synagogue and a Charlottesville street and by inadequate medical care in migration facilities. Through these years, as ethnic minorities and Jews and feminists and trans people and gay people have sounded out the alarm bells, the mainstream GOP laughed. They turned a profit on “triggering the libs”; they called opposition to the tide of rising white nationalism “Trump Derangement Syndrome.” Only when the hound turned on them, its jaws red and insatiable, did they at last begin to cry out in alarm about the danger the rest of us have known for years.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 November 2019 at 3:23 pm

Former Twitter employees charged with spying for Saudi Arabia by digging into the accounts of kingdom critics

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Our technology puts too much of our personal information up for grabs, and those grabbing it often do not have our best interests in mind but rather the opposite. Ellen Nakashima and
Greg Bensinger report in the Washington Post

The Justice Department has charged two former Twitter employees with spying for Saudi Arabia in a case that raises concerns about the ability of Silicon Valley to protect the private information of dissidents and other users from repressive governments.

The charges, unveiled Wednesday in San Francisco, came a day after the arrest of one of the former Twitter employees, Ahmad Abouammo, a U.S. citizen who is alleged to have spied on the accounts of three users — including one whose posts discussed the inner workings of the Saudi leadership — on behalf of the government in Riyadh.

Abouammo is also charged with falsifying an invoice to obstruct an FBI investigation.

[Secret recordings give insight into Saudi attempt to silence critics]

The second former Twitter employee — Ali Alzabarah, a Saudi citizen — was accused of accessing the personal information of more than 6,000 Twitter accounts in 2015 on behalf of Saudi Arabia. One of those accounts belonged to a prominent dissident, Omar Abdulaziz, who later became close to Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist who was killed by Saudi government agents last year.

Prosecutors said a third individual, Saudi citizen Ahmed Almutairi, acted as an intermediary between Saudi officials and the Twitter employees. He is also charged with spying. Alzabarah and Almutairi are believed to be in Saudi Arabia. Analysts said it is the first time federal prosecutors have publicly accused Saudis of spying in the United States.

The case is noteworthy in that it targets a strategic Middle East ally, whose de facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has been linked by the CIA to Khashoggi’s killing in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in October 2018.

[CIA concludes Saudi crown prince ordered Jamal Khashoggi’s assassination]

“The criminal complaint unsealed today alleges that Saudi agents mined Twitter’s internal systems for personal information about known Saudi critics and thousands of other Twitter users,” said U.S. Attorney David L. Anderson. “We will not allow U.S. companies or U.S. technology to become tools of foreign repression in violation of U.S. law.”

Twitter restricts access to sensitive account information “to a limited group of trained and vetted employees,” said a spokesman, who spoke on the condition of anonymity “to protect the safety” of Twitter personnel. “We understand the incredible risks faced by many who use Twitter to share their perspectives with the world and to hold those in power accountable. We have tools in place to protect their privacy and their ability to do their vital work.”

The three men are accused of working with a Saudi official who leads a charitable organization belonging to Mohammed. Based on a description of the charity, the official is Bader Al Asaker, which was confirmed by a person familiar with the case, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing case. Asaker’s charity, MiSK, belongs to Mohammed bin Salman, who is referred to in the complaint as Royal Family Member 1.

According to the complaint, Asaker was  . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

It’s too bad that Saudi Arabia so totally pwned Donald Trump and Jared Kushner (with Kushner apparently passing along classified information).

Written by LeisureGuy

6 November 2019 at 2:12 pm

Richard Spencer’s Contract With America

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Zak Cheney-Rice writes in New York:

White nationalism has a branding problem. The election of Donald Trump proved there’s an appetite for its basic principles — namely, that an ideal America is an America ruled politically, culturally, and demographically by white people, catering to their desires and ideas about belonging and maintained through the demonization, flagellation, and expulsion of their chosen enemies. But nobody wants to be called a racist. So while the prospect of an ethnostate has its charms for many Americans, being associated with unsavory types like Nazis and Ku Klux Klansmen remains a deal breaker for some. The movement’s activists know this. Leaders like David Duke vehemently reject the impulse to cast those “[defending] the heritage of European-American people” as “racist.” Others, like Identity Evropa organizer Daniel Morley, have dedicated their lives to helping others game the debate. “A good strategy would be to steer the definition of ‘racism’ toward ‘racial hatred,’” Morley reportedly told one member last year. “We don’t hate other races, so we’re not racists. After all, the word isn’t going away. May as well control it.”

These people thrive in the gaps between Americans’ fear of being called racist, their attraction to racist ideas, and their inability to recognize racism that doesn’t advertise itself as such. Representative Steve King espoused white nationalism from the House floor for 16 years before earning a rebuke from his Republican colleagues, which came only after he asked a New York Times interviewer how terms like white supremacist had become offensive. Meanwhile, he has managed to win nine Congressional elections. Recognition that people like King are not outliers — that racism is most palatable in a suit and tie — has inspired a spate of news features about similarly groomed bigots at outlets including Mother Jones, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times. The subject of several has been Richard Spencer, whose profile rose alongside Trump’s presidential campaign in 2015 and 2016. The so-called dapper face of contemporary white nationalism, Spencer runs a white-supremacist think tank and was a featured speaker at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017.

Over the weekend, Milo Yiannopoulos, the disgraced former Breitbart editor and a social rival of Spencer’s, published audio that he claimed had been leaked from a meeting Spencer attended after the Charlottesville rally. Spencer was purportedly angry about the negative press generated by the killing of Heather Heyer — whom white supremacist James Alex Fields Jr. intentionally hit with his car during the march — and how it might disfavor his political movement. Here’s an excerpt:

I am so mad. I am so fucking mad at these people. They don’t do this to fucking me. We’re going to fucking ritualistically humiliate them. I am coming back here every fucking weekend if I have to. Like this is never over. I win. They fucking lose. That’s how the world fucking works. Little fucking kikes. They get ruled by people like me. Little fucking octoroons. My ancestors fucking enslaved those little pieces of fucking shit. I rule the fucking world. Those pieces of shit get ruled by people like me. They look up and see a face like mine looking down at them. That’s how the fucking world works. We are going to destroy this fucking town.

If the man on the recording is indeed Spencer, the veneer he has cultivated as a palatable alternative to people in white robes burning crosses in the woods is all but shattered. His references to “kikes” (a slur for Jews), “octoroons” (an anachronism for a person with one-eighth black ancestry), and the enslaving of their forebears are the most flagrant expressions yet of the animus he has long tried to hide beneath sartorial verve. The recording remains unverified by news outlets, and the possibility that Yiannopoulos, a notorious troll, fabricated it for attention is not out of the question. But nor does its ideological veracity require it to be authentic: None of what Spencer stands for is mysterious, and the frequency with which his public appearances are protested — and even greeted with punches to the face — suggests that plenty of others aren’t fooled either.

But the recording occasions a larger point, which is that what’s normal is no longer scandalous. And the president of the United States has already been such an effective mouthpiece for Spencer’s ideals, and for so long, that the activist greeted his election with chants of “Hail Trump! Hail our people! Hail victory!” before a crowd of followers performing Nazi salutes. The hordes of white supremacists among whom Spencer allegedly noted a branding problem in Charlottesville contained “very fine people,” according to Trump — perhaps the most fortuitous public-relations boost he could’ve asked for at the time. Meanwhile, Trump’s casting of black people as “shithole”-dwellers, Latino immigrants as criminals, and Muslims as terrorists to rationalize preventing their immigration to the U.S. is as enthusiastic a meld of bigotry and policy as Spencer could’ve dreamed up. Trump’s campaign to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census in order to expand the political influence of white people at the expense of Latinos advances a broader GOP effort to erode black and brown electoral power and, by extension, reduce our say in government.

None of these efforts require the “white nationalist” label to implement a white-nationalist agenda. Nor do their respectable trappings negate their violent implications. But Americans have long proved that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 November 2019 at 6:27 pm

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